First Place – 2020 James H. Nash Contest

“I love this poet’s ability to perform what Shklovsky once called ‘ostranenie’ or ‘estrangement’: when one looks in the mirror of self and sees one of many things, still alive, on earth… It is frightening, this poem, because it is beautiful.”

Ilya Kaminsky, 2020 Nash Contest Judge

After a Nightmare



Can you believe it terror can live
in your body for so long, your mind
will fall in love with it
and re-gift it to you again?

That on a cool night, empty of moon,
your subconscious will question everything?
Doubt each of your pores and their testimony,
a million pinwheel-ed eyes punctuating your flesh?

Some nights, your skin is a tight sock full of holes,
and you can’t even fully deny it.
You do feel worn / stretched / inexplicably lost.
You think, Yes, this makes sense.

Some days there is a whole ankle
lodged in my throat,
a heel bone pressing
behind my left breastbone,
toenails digging into my kidneys
dragging my torso across the city

the meetings / the hours / the marches / exhausted / the tears / the gas / the laughter / the
dead / phones / and lost friends / behind the trees but / the police / line looked like it was /
moving towards the mouth of the parking lot and there’s a fence back here y’all there’s a fence
back here we can’t get out this way they’ll kill us they’ll kill us run not that way run come here
they’re gonna go behind that building and block they alley they’re blocking the alley did you
see where he went I can’t find him go go go come here call me when you get to St. Mark’s
                                                                                                    get back to the car
                                                                                                                  charge your phone
                                                                                                                                get home / safe.

2. After a nightmare, the body responds:

Don’t be mad

at me for this.

It is a gift,

to watch the terror

morph in your sleep

and see you

survive it


Look at you,

shocked upright

in your bed

by your own


Look at you,

sobbing the abyss

off your skin.

Look at you,

all terrified

and still here.

JACQUI GERMAIN is a published poet and journalist living and working in St. Louis, MO. Author of the 2016 Button Poetry chapbook When the Ghosts Come Ashore, Germain has received fellowships from the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission, Jack Jones Literary Arts, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and the Poetry Foundation’s Emerging Poets Incubator. She currently serves as Poetry Editor for St. Louis’ own december magazine. Her poems have been published in multiple literary journals in addition to being anthologized in Bettering American Poetry, Volume 3; The End of Chiraq: A Literary Mixtape; and Crossing the Divide, an anthology of St. Louis poets.